Officials of the Arabian American Oil Co. said today that the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia should be 90 per cent of normal within three days, although fire fighters continue to battle flames at the Abqaiq pumping station.
Aramco's senior vice president for operations, John Kalberer, said the company expects no major disruption in the flow of exports because storage tanks at the port of Ras Tanura were full when the fire broke out.
Nevertheless, Aramco's average production of 10.3 million barrels a day was cut by more than half for the third consecutive day by the fire at Abqaiq, about 40 miles south of here.
Construction crews worked alongside the firemen today installing new pumps and piplines to get the oil flowing again.
The blaze appears to have been the worst in Aramco history. Kalberer said Aramco history. Kalberer said Aramco officials are conviced that there is no possibility of sabotage, but they have not yet determined the cause of the fire.
It began when an underground pipeline ruptured rutured without warning Wednesday afternoon. It sprayed blazing oil on pumps, pipes and separators nearby, with oil from those facilities further feeding the flames. The fire destroyed an entire pumping station, melted hundreds of yards of pipelines and put out of commission two spherical tanks used to separate this oil from its associated gases.
Flames were still leaping from one of those tanks this afternoon. Kalberer said that if all six tanks in the plant had been put out, it might have been months before the full flow of oil was restored.
Within a few yards of the burning tanks, construction workers with cranes were clearing away the blacened wreckage of the pumping statation and pipelines and beginning to install bypass pipes that are expected to be ready in less than a week.
Kalberer said Aramco has "excess pumping capacity" in other stations nearby and that the remaining gas separator spheres were operating below capacity, so that production could go back to normal as soon as the new pipes are installed.
Kalberer conducted an aerial tour of the site for four American reporters as he spoke of the fire's impact. The tour was arranged by Aramco executives who were alarmed by what they said were false and exaggerated reports of the fire that were being published in several major capitals, especially Japan, which is heavily dependent on Saudi oil.
From the air, smoldering wreckage, which is spread over nearly a sqare mile, looks like a mojor disaster. Kalberer said, however, that it is "not as bad as it looks." He said fire-fighting equipment built into the processing plant, including an automatic shutoff valve that stopped the flow of oil from the wells, has prevented the fire from spreading.
A tank farm only a few yards from the fire zone, where more than 200,000 barrels of oil were stored, was hardly touched, and a major liquefied petroleum gas plant nearby was not damaged.